Photo: East China Normal University Press

China has published an artificial intelligence textbook which will be used as an optional course at senior high schools, in a clear sign of the country's ambition to attain global leadership in the research and development of artificial intelligence.

The textbook named "Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence" dwells on the history of the development of artificial intelligence and the areas where it can be applied including facial recognition, public security and autonomous driving.

The first batch of 40 pilot senior high schools in Beijing, Shanghai, the provinces of Liaoning, Shandong and Jiangsu, as well as the remote Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region will adopt the textbook as an illuminative teaching material for spreading basic knowledge about artificial intelligence among their students.

The textbook is compiled by Tang Xiaoou, co-founder of SenseTime, a promising artificial intelligence startup in China, experts from the Mooc Center of East China Normal University, and teachers from six famous senior high schools in Shanghai.

SenseTime is strongly endorsed by China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which last month led a record $600 million funding round for the Hong Kong-based artificial intelligence startup, which focuses on innovative computer vision and deep learning and has a reported valuation of more than $3 billion. Alibaba has poured a great sum of money into the development of artificial intelligence, with its artificial intelligence laboratories having been established at home and abroad.

At the launch event of the textbook, Tang, who is also an information engineering professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, gave an interesting class about how computer vision and deep learning help machines understand films and how artificial intelligence can change people's lives before an audience of high school teachers. At the launch event, the professor expressed the excitement about the introduction of the textbook symbolizing SenseTime's wisdom and experience in the artificial intelligence research to China's senior high schools, hoping that the textbook could help cultivate students' creative spirit for artificial intelligence.

Moreover, SenseTime will work with the pilot senior high schools to establish joint artificial intelligence teaching laboratories equipped with the technology company's high-performance deep learning platform that is helpful in enabling students better understand the contents of the textbook.

Starting May, SenseTime will start embarking on the training of teachers designated to teach artificial intelligence in partnership with a Shanghai-based educational training institution.

The basic education of artificial intelligence at senior high schools has been supported by the Chinese government, which wants the country to be a global bellwether in artificial intelligence by 2030.

Since 2017 when Google's AlphaGo again defeated Chinese Go master Ke Jie, the Chinese government has rolled out a series of policies that outline the development path for artificial intelligence.

In July 2017, the State Council, the country's cabinet, for the first time lifted artificial intelligence education to the layer of national strategy by releasing the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which asks primary and middle schools to include artificial intelligence courses into their curriculums and calls on pilot universities to set up artificial intelligence schools.

Five months after the release of the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology unveiled a three-year action plan (2018-2020) to promote the development of the artificial intelligence industry.

The action plan sets four goals: widening the use of artificial intelligence-powered products such as Internet-connected cars and intelligent robots; injecting more resources into the research and development of intelligent sensors, neural network chips and open-source platforms for artificial intelligence; promoting the application of artificial intelligence in various industries especially in the manufacturing sector; and improving the environment for artificial intelligence research.

Big gap

At the present time, however, China still lags behind the United States in cultivating high-level artificial intelligence experts. The United States is widely believed to take the lead in the quantity and quality of top artificial intelligence talents, which is helped by its complete disciplinary system of artificial intelligence at universities.

In order to narrow the gap, some top universities in China like Peking University have begun offering master's degrees in artificial intelligence innovation and integrating educational and industrial resources from home and abroad to create an educational system with Chinese characteristics.

And recently, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with domestic technology-focused investment company Sinovation Ventures, organized an all-star faculty made up of some prestigious artificial intelligence scientists for its ambitious training program, which plans to nurture at least 500 teachers and 5,000 students in the field of artificial intelligence at Chinese universities in the next five years.

A Goldman Sachs report showed that China only had 5 percent of the global artificial intelligence talents in 2017 but it outperformed the United States in the year to become a country where more than half of the artificial intelligence projects were based.

A People's Daily report also indicated that about 5 million artificial intelligence professionals were urgently needed in China in 2017, and this talent shortage had prompted employers to enhance the annual salaries to recruit artificial intelligence talents.